“Based on December 2015 data, counties in any quintile of broadband access have on average 9.6% lower diabetes prevalence than those counties in the next lower quintile of access. This change in diabetes prevalence remains when we control for education (8.7%) and income (8.4%) separately or together with age (6.0%).”
C2H Research Monograph (2019)
There is increasing evidence demonstrating a strong relationship between broadband access, Internet adoption, and health outcomes. As such, fostering digital equity and health equity are inextricably intertwined. For many years, stakeholders have viewed broadband as a critical means to connect doctors to patients and to close gaps related to time and distance. Unfortunately, many Americans are still falling through the broadband health gap.
The Connect2HealthFCC Task Force’s (C2H Task Force) research indicates that one promising solution may lie in a paradigm shift—in recognizing that broadband plays a more direct and consequential role—as a social determinant of health, if not as a “super” determinant of health. The Advancing Broadband Connectivity as a Social Determinant of Health Initiative is pursuing this promising research to inform public policy and help close the digital divide in health. Under this Initiative, the C2H Task Force is continuing to study and establish the basis for broadband connectivity (i.e., access, adoption, and use) as a recognized social determinant of health domain. The goals of the initiative are to:
- inform current and future FCC policies and programs (e.g., broadband, USF, telehealth, etc.);
- support government-wide interest in leveraging broadband in improving population health and reducing health inequities;
- pursue collaborative projects with public and/or private stakeholders;
- encourage other studies and research in this area; and
- foster competitive innovation in the Health IT sector related to the construct of broadband as a social determinant of health, including measurement and evaluation.
The Task Force anticipates that establishing the basis for broadband connectivity as a social determinant of health domain could enable appropriate authoritative bodies to formally recognize the critical role of broadband connectivity. As a result, transformative policies and programs could emerge, as well as a systems approach to health, that address social determinants of health and connectivity together; it could assist in determining the most effective and efficient medical interventions (leveraging broadband-enabled technologies, solutions, and services) for treating and managing chronic diseases and other medical conditions; and it can help to further bridge the digital divide and increase digital inclusion and equity—an FCC policy priority—by supporting the prevailing view that health is a compelling use case for encouraging and accelerating broadband access and adoption.
Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, worship, age, and play that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks, including mortality rates. They represent non-medical factors (e.g., health care access, health insurance coverage, poverty, education level, access to healthy foods, access to transportation, neighborhood crime, etc.) that affect health. Experts have found SDOH factors to account for an estimated 80-90% of a person’s health status and that such factors are more likely to be major contributors to premature death, yet these factors underlie preventable disparities in health status and disease outcomes. Additional information about SDOH is available from our SDOH Resources page.
Call for Research
The Task Force welcomes the opportunity to discuss existing or emerging research (from public health experts, industry, trade organizations, advocacy groups, academic researchers, etc.) showing the relationship between broadband connectivity (i.e., access, adoption, or use) and health or health outcomes. Policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders who are interested in discussing or sharing their work and findings, as well as pursuing potential collaborations, with the Connect2Helath Task Force should contact us.
You may contact the Connect2Health Task Force by e-mail at engageC2H@fcc.gov and insert “Broadband SDOH” in the subject line.